Pakistan Needs A Coalition Government


                                 By Vivian Salama

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The Current Discussion: With President Zardari forced to reverse his bans on political opponents, is Pakistan on the brink or is this a positive sign? What, if anything, can the West do to help maintain stability and democracy?

In less than one month, Pakistan’s government has conceded not once, but three times, to challengers both political and militant in nature. Those concessions have raised concerns about Pakistan’s vulnerability and its inability to suppress its growing militant problem or prevent violent disputes with the opposition.

The first concession came last month when, after more than a year-long offensive in the embattled Swat Valley, the military signed a cease fire with the Taliban, folding to the longtime demands of Islamic militants to implement Shari’a law in the region. Some of the region’s residents remain hopeful that the region will return to a Shari’a that was at one time a moderate, locally-based alternative to the country’s drawn-out federal legal proceedings. But the concession blatantly exposes the Pakistani military’s inability to prevent extremism from seeping into the heart of the country. Located a mere 160 kilometers from Islamabad, Taliban militants now stand at Pakistan’s front door. It is only a matter of time before they move in.

The second concession was on March 3rd, when at least 12 heavily armed militants staged a commando-style attack on a convoy carrying the Sri Lankan national cricket team, coaches and referees to the Gadaffi Stadium in Lahore. I will not explore the various conspiracy theories now floating around Pakistan about who is to blame for these atrocious attacks, which claimed the lives of six police officers and a driver. But I will point out that at the time this post was published, all the assailants remained at large. The scene of the crime, Liberty Square, is a heavily congested roundabout in the heart of Pakistan’s cultural capital. The attacks happened not in the evening like the Mumbai attacks, but during the morning rush hour. There is surveillance video shot by camera crews at television studios based in Liberty Square. The gunmen are reported to have been carrying large bags. British cricket referee Chris Broad has lashed out at the Pakistani government, saying that there was no sign of security at the time of the attacks. The fact that the gunmen got away and have thus far managed to avoid arrest is alarming.

 In an interview with opposition leader Nawaz Sharif days after the attacks, Sharif claimed that the government’s failure to ensure the security of the cricketers is the direct result of its preoccupation with politics and stifling the opposition.

 Finally, after the February 25th decision by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to ban Nawaz Sharif and his brother from elected office, President Asif Zardari’s decision to reinstate Iftikhar Chaudhry, the country’s Chief Justice, came as a surprise to many.

 The past fortnight has been particularly turbulent in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province and the PML-N stronghold. The highly anticipated cross country “long march” never made it to Islamabad as protesters had initially planned, but it found victory in Lahore. Many pundits pointing to “Punjab Power” as the source of the shake-up.

 President Zardari has never been popular. He was not popular even as the husband of Benazir Bhutto, when she was Prime Minister. As the leader of a civilian government, he is far more vulnerable to the will of the people than his military predecessor, the equally unpopular General Pervez Musharraf, who had the backing of the army.

 His decision to reinstate Iftikhar Chaudhry was indeed a positive step, but it is not the solution to Pakistan’s problems. A coalition government, similar to that agreed upon between Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif just before Bhutto’s assassination, is now needed if Pakistan is to take a serious step against its increasingly dangerous militant problem. Pakistan’s current leadership must show that it is above petty politics by genuinely reaching out to the opposition, rather than making occasional concessions that ultimately expose its inner weaknesses.

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Lambasting Islam is no solution


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Toleration is the key 

by Balbhadra Rana

Novelist McEvan has said that he hates militant Islam. He has also defended his friend Martin Amis who has also expressed his dislike for Islam. McEvan says anyone who says something against militant Islam is branded a racist. This is true. Governments the world over have become extra-sensitive in dealing with their Muslim populace. They want to avoid anything that hurts their sentiments. This is because Osama bin Laden’s brand of Islam has many takers.

Let us discuss what McEvan and Amis say about Islam. We deal with Amis first. He says the militants have won the war of dominance and the moderates amongst Muslims have lost. Though there are many takers for the militant brand of Islam, it would be too early to say that the moderates have lost. Though ‘Ladenism’ has appealed to many, most Muslims the world over subscribe to moderate Islam. It is only that the hardliners grab more headlines.

Amis said Muslims would suffer till they bring their house into order. This is true. Muslims the world over are looked upon with suspicion. The relations of Muslims with their neighbours of other religions have been gradually spoiled. But when Amis says things like, ’strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan’, it is going too far. This will only swell the ranks of Laden’s followers.

McEvan says he detests Islam because of the way women are not given freedom and its non-acceptance of homosexuality. McEvan should look at Turkey and Jordan. Both have Muslim populations but the status of women there is good. Iraqi women too enjoyed a free life till Saddam Hussain was deposed. As far as homosexuality is concerned, it is only recently gay marriages were legalized in ultra liberal California. Homosexuality remains taboo even today in most countries of the world.

Though McEvan has full rights to say he hates militant Islam, he offers no solutions. His friend Amis provides extreme measures that will prove counter-productive. It must be kept in mind that Ladenism is a freak strand of Islam, subscribed to by a minuscule minority of Muslims. Muslims are citizens of the world too and followers of other religions should show understanding. Just criticizing the weaknesses of Islam as followed by some will only alienate the entire community. Gandhi’s teachings are very relevant today. His principles of tolerance hold the key to today’s incipient clash between religions.

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Role of ‘Religion’ in violence [1 of 3]


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Examples of violence by the strong on the weak are many and come from the very earliest times of known history. Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Persian, Arab, British, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, and Russian empires come easily to mind. World wars were fought for the resources of colonies. Post WWII, with weakening of the Colonial powers, the USA took up the role and intervened directly by naked aggression and through surrogates.
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A HISTORIC REVIEW OF ITS GENESIS

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by Dr. Syed Ehtisham

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Organized religion is like organized crime, it preys on people’s weaknesses, generates huge profits for its operators and is almost impossible to eradicate (Mike Hermann).

One does not have to agree with the above to see that religion is used more frequently to cause mayhem, than any other attribute of human kind.

Examples of violence by the strong on the weak are many and come from the very earliest times of known history. Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Persian, Arab, British, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, and Russian empires come easily to mind. World wars were fought for the resources of colonies. Post WWII, with weakening of the Colonial powers, the USA took up the role and intervened directly by naked aggression and through surrogates.

In Western countries, violence is attributed variously to fanaticism, clash of cultures, poverty, lack of education etc. Muslim residents of Western countries, by and large, condemn acts of violence against innocent people, but would want the people in the West to understand the reasons why a person would deliberately sacrifice his life.

Jews were persecuted by followers of practically all religions. Romans persecuted Christians, and Muslims, after their fall from power, were subjugated by all comers including people of their own faith. But violence in the name of religion was first definitively documented in the late fifteenth century Papal Bull which authorized the king of Portugal “to attack, conquer and subdue Saracens, pagans and other non-believers who were inimical to Christ; to capture their goods and territories; to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to transfer their lands and properties to the king of Portugal and his successors”.  (more…)

An Empty Tribal Belt? Pakistan Is Betraying Its Proud Tribesmen


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by AHMED QURAISHI

 

An empty buffer zone is slowly emerging, separating Afghanistan and Pakistan’s populated areas. A half-million Pakistanis are in tents, homeless and no one is bothered. Is it an American conspiracy and a Pakistani complacency? The Pakistani media and politicians are criminally ignorant and busy in their own power games while a major strategic change is taking place inside and around their country.

This picture above saddened me no end. The proud tribesmen of Pakistan, those who beat the English and the Russians and fought their way to liberate half of the Indian occupied Kashmir are now facing an American conspiracy and a Pakistani complacency.

America’s Afghan blunders have resulted in expelling the proud Pakistani tribesmen from their homes and turned almost half a million of them into refugees in their own country.

If this wasn’t enough, here comes Pakistan to treat them as animals in the ‘tent cities’ built for them near Peshawar. And then come the Americans and the Indians to spread literature encouraging the Pashtun to demand a separate homeland called Pashtunistan.

For a year and a half, I have been explaining at AhmedQuraishi.com to Pakistanis, with original reporting and informed analysis, how Pakistan’s tribal belt was peaceful until 2005, and how ‘non-state actors’ in Washington DC have used the Afghan soil to create, arm and sustain insurgencies inside Pakistan that run from the Chinese-built Gwadar port in the south to the Chinese border in the north. The suicide bombings, the attacks and the destabilization is punishment for Pakistan for supporting the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan and for insisting to stick to Kashmir against the wishes of India, Washington’s new regional slave-soldier.

The anti-Pakistan insurgencies hide behind the covered faces of the so-called Pakistani Taliban who receive money and weapons from Afghanistan.

Now the Americans want to expand the process of more and more Pakistani tribesmen leaving their homes and escaping deeper inside Pakistan. The suspicion is that Washington wants to create a buffer zone between the U.S.-occupied Afghanistan and Pakistan, a zone inhabited by no one. All Pakistani tribes pushed out. The strategy is working. The number of these Pakistanis who have become refugees inside their own country is nearing half a million.

Pakistani media and journalists are playing an unfortunate role in helping the Americans by focusing on failed Pakistani politicians and their power games that are diverting the attention of the Pakistani public opinion from the important issue of the plight of these brave Pakistani tribesmen and how our government is silently abetting the Americans in humiliating them.

 I wrote recently in The News that Pakistan needs a Putin, a Pakistani nationalist who loves his homeland and his people and who is ruthless enough to do what’s right for all of us and for the homeland and liberate it from the clutches of the stooges of the Americans and the Brits. I hope he comes before it’s too late.

Originally posted at Ahmed Quraishi’s The Lounge. 

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The battle over Indian History


doniger_wendy by Wendy Doniger
For years, some Hindus have argued that the 16th century mosque called the Babri Masjid (after the Mughal emperor Babur) was built over a temple commemorating the birthplace of Rama (an avatar of the god Vishnu) in Ayodhya (the city where, according to the ancient poem called the Ramayana, Rama was born), though there is no evidence whatsoever that there has been ever a temple on that spot or that Rama was born there.
On December 6, 1992, as the police stood by and watched, leaders of the right-wing Hindu party called the BJP whipped a crowd of 200,000 into frenzy. Shouting “Death to the Muslims!” the mob attacked Babur’s mosque with sledgehammers. In the riots that followed, over a thousand people lost their lives, and many more died in reactive riots that broke out elsewhere in India. On the site today, nothing but vandalized ruins remains, and, in a dark corner of the large, empty space, a small shrine with a couple of oleograph pictures of Rama, where a Hindu priest performs a perfunctory ritual. Whether or not there ever was a Hindu temple there before, there is a temple, however makeshift, there now.
People are being killed in India today because of misreadings of the history of the Hindus. In all religions, myths that pass for history–not just casual misinformation, the stock in trade of the internet, but politically-driven, aggressive distortions of the past–can be deadly, and in India they incite violence not only against Muslims but against women, Christians, and the lower castes.
Myth has been called “the smoke of history,” and there is a desperate need for a history of the Hindus that distinguishes between the fire, the documented evidence, and the smoke; for mythic narratives become fires when they drive historical events rather than respond to them. Ideas are facts too; the belief, whether true or false, that the British were greasing cartridges with animal fat, sparked a revolution in India in 1857. We are what we imagine, as much as what we do.
Hindus in America, too, care how their history is taught to their children in American schools, and the voices of Hindu action groups ring out on the internet. Some of these groups, justifiably incensed by the disproportionate emphasis on the horrors of the caste system in American textbooks, and by the grotesque misrepresentation of Hindu deities in American commercialism, ricochet to the other extreme and demand that all references to the caste system be expunged from all American textbooks.
And so I tried to tell a more balanced story, in “The Hindus: An Alternative History,” to set the narrative of religion within the narrative of history, as a statue of a Hindu god is set in its base, to show how Hindu images, stories, and philosophies were inspired or configured by the events of the times, and how they changed as the times changed. There is no one Hindu view of karma, or of women, or of Muslims; there are so many different opinions (one reason why it’s a rather big book) that anyone who begins a sentence with the phrase, “The Hindus believe. . . ,” is talking nonsense.
My narrative is alternative both to the histories promulgated by some contemporary Hindus on the political right in India and to those presented in most surveys in English–imperialist histories, all about the kings, ignoring ordinary people. But the texts tell us not just who was the ruler but who got enough to eat and who did not. And so my narrative is alternative in its inclusion of alternative people. How does one include the marginal as well as the mainstream Hindus in the story? The ancient texts, usually dismissed as the work of Brahmin males, in fact reveal a great deal about the lower castes, often very sympathetic to them and sometimes coded as narratives about dogs, standing for the people now generally called Dalits, formerly called Untouchables. The argument, for instance, that Dalits should be allowed to enter temples, an argument still violently disputed in parts of India today, can already be found, masked, in ancient stories about faithful dogs who should be allowed to enter heaven. So too, though Feminists often argue that Hindu women were entirely silenced, women’s voices–their ideas and attitudes and, above all, their stories–were often heard and recorded by the men who wrote down the texts.
Foreigners, too, made contributions to Hinduism from the very beginning. Once upon a time–about 50 million years ago –a triangular plate of land, moving fast (for a continent), broke off from Madagascar (a large island lying off the southeastern coast of Africa), and sailed across the Indian Ocean and smashed into the belly of Central Asia with such force that it squeezed the earth five miles up into the skies to form the Himalayan range and fused with Central Asia to become the Indian subcontinent. Or so the people who study plate tectonics nowadays tell us, and who am I to challenge them? Not just land but people came to India from Africa, much later; the winds that bring the monsoon rains to India each year also brought the first humans to peninsular India by sea from East Africa in around 50,000 BCE. And so from the very start India was a place made up of land and people from somewhere else. India itself is an import, or if you prefer, Africa outsourced India (and just about everyone else).
The magnificent civilization of the Indus Valley (in present-day Pakistan) traded with Sumer, Crete, and Mesopotamian, before it came to a mysterious end in about 2000 BCE. At just about the same time, in the nearby Punjab, a very different culture entered India from the Northwest and created the great corpus of texts called the Vedas, the oldest texts of Hinduism. Other invaders– Greeks, Turks, Arabs, and British–made valuable contributions to the complex fabric of Hinduism.
We can trace certain important ideas throughout the centuries of this unbroken tradition. For example: A profound psychological understanding of addiction to material objects is evident throughout the history of Hinduism. Addiction was the concern not merely of kings or scholars but of ordinary people, like the proto-hippy and the gambler who are depicted in the Vedas (see excerpt). One reaction to this perceived danger was to control addiction through asceticism or renunciation. And so began an ongoing battle between a great tradition that always celebrated sensuality (think: elephants encrusted with rubies, temples that make rococo look like Danish modern, the Kama-sutra) and another that feared the excesses of the flesh and practiced meditation (think: Gandhi).
Some of the British, especially in the early colonial period, admired and celebrated the sensuality of Hinduism. Others, particularly but not only the later Protestant missionaries, despised what they regarded as Hindu excesses. Unfortunately, many educated Hindus took their cues from the second sort of Brit and became ashamed of the sensuous aspects of their own religion, aping the Victorians (who were, after all, very Victorian), becoming more Protestant than thou. It is not fair to blame the British for the Puritanical strain in Hinduism; it began much earlier. But they certainly made it a lot worse. And cultural influences of this sort, as much as the grand ideas, are part of what makes the history of the Hindus so fascinating.
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